description: After playing the awe inspiring Portal 2 I felt like creating a map on my own. Since I didn’t want to exclude players that haven’t played Portal 2 before I decided to
create a rather easy puzzle. (The proof: One of my fellow students finished the level without any prior Portal / Portal2 experience within 7min.)
engine: portal 2 / source
duration: 2 Weeks
The design of this level is strongly connected to the puzzle I set up as well as the over all appearance of level in Portal 2. A lot of work went into making the level feel right. One of the main aspects was to keep the level as tidy as possible. To make sure that the player was guided right, I used lights as well as wall markings. The tractor beam that is set into the floor is quite an eye catcher too. To help novice players I used the materials, the player can not create portals on quite a lot. I build quite a few test levels just to see how far one could go with spacing, distances and complexity before the level would start to get confusing. Having the test level set up gave me a playground as well to fine tune certain aspects of the puzzle e.g. How long it would take to spawn the companion cube.
The puzzle design of the test chamber was a delight! I could just pick the puzzle elements I liked the best :) I drafted the puzzle mainly on some pieces of paper before doing it in Photoshop. All in all this puzzle took me about 6-7 iterations before I had the elements positioned in a way they are in the final level. In the first couple of drafts I had Wheatley included as well to sort of guide the player on a wrong track. But soon I realised that it is unnecessary since You couldn’t do anything that was fun and I didn’t manage in the set frame of time to “teach” Wheatly to speak.
I think one of the important parts of the texturing was to break up the walls. In one of the earlier iterations of the level I used one texture for the walls. You felt rather lost staring at the endless tiles. Using different and different sized textures allowed me to break up the walls, creating a more pleasing and interesting aesthetic. Furthermore I could use the textures for player guidance as well.
The scripting I did was mainly to set up the puzzle properly. Some general settings were rather tricky to master e.g. letting the player die in the acid or giving the player the portal gun right from the beginning. On the other side getting GlaDOS to speak at the right moments was rather easy. Given the two weeks time frame I forced upon myself I didn’t manage to bring some more life into the level. I really liked the theme f rebuilding the facility that went through most Portal 2 levels. With some more time at my hands I would have done some more with the panels I placed within the level.
what went right?
1. creating atmosphere
One of things that was really important to me when I started to create this map was that I wanted the player to feel that he is still in the laboratory complex. I studied a lot of the maps in the campaign to see how the original levels were done. I wanted to get all those little details, that made Portal 2 what it was. Just as an example there are two spots were aperture science employees can monitor the player. The two rooms even though you will never (except with the developer console) be able to reach are full of furniture and computers – coffee mugs are standing around as if the occupier just left. In my opinion this is what gives Portal 2 so much charm. For some of these details I literally had to take a whole part of the test chamber apart to incorporate them more easily. To finish everything of I “thought” GlaDOS to speak, communicating from time to time with the player. Admittedly GlaDOS saying her fare wells at the end doesn’t really incorporate test chamber 117 into the campaign but I wanted to more or less give the map a little story on its own.
2. guiding the player
Creating guidance can be rather tricky. You do want to hint where everything is supposed to is without pushing the player too much. Getting the player into the main chamber was fairly simple. The first observation room you encounter is more or less lighting the way creating a place of interest for the player. Once the player reaches the end of the first hall way the guidance is taken over by the traktor beam that is visible through a glass panel in the floor. In the main hall most of the players actions are guided by the lights along the wall that change colour as soon as the player activates a trigger. I used indirect lighting to hint where the player was supposed to get to.
3. puzzle design or getting the difficulty right
I suppose one of the hardest decisions was: what puzzle elements will I use ? Before I created the map I already played through the Portal 2 campaign twice – so I had a fair grasp of what puzzle elements I wanted to use. Given the size of the planned map and the time limit I had in mind I realised I could just cram everything into the map. So I devised a puzzle that wouldn’t be to easy or to hard. After all I wanted the map to be played by novices as well as veterans of Portal and Portal 2. That I got the puzzle difficulty just right showed one of the play tests: one of my friends who never played Portal or Portal 2 before had a go at the map. Without any hints he defeated the puzzle within seven minutes. I was rather pleased with that :)
4. public play testing
At one point I had to stop. The map was complete, apart from the test chamber sign at the very beginning ( I never managed to convince it to work) and I decided to upload it to one of the community pages. I got loads of really positive feedback and people were complaining that the map was far to short lived as well as asking me to make more maps. To be honest this was far more than I expected :) What the public play test showed as well is that there are quite a few ways on how to “break” my puzzle in the way of solving it in different ways. Some of them were actually rather amazing and for some I thought: “How did he do that?!”
what went wrong?
1. underestimating the hammer
Now the first time I got in touch with the hammer editor was ages ago and it wasn’t really successful either. So basically we can assume I had no experience what so ever. Building the map took me about two weeks ( after school hours and on the weekend) most of that time I spend the time with on getting the grip on the editor and on the scripting. After about a week I was more or less half way through the map.I decided to hang on another week. As it turned out that was all I needed. But since I was actually supposed to be working on our student project “Gargoyles – Stoned till Dawn” some of my team members weren’t really happy that I spent that much time on my own little project.
2. timing is everything
As I already mentioned I was more or less under pressure to get the map done so I could continue working on our student project. The good thing about it was that you actually got that deadline feeling you get when you are close to a milestone and you realise that half of the milestone isn’t done. The bad thing about it was that I never got around to implement all the feedback from the community. One part of the puzzle is to guide a laser-beam to a switch with the help of focus cubes ( cubes with a built-in lens to redirect the beam). Some players said that they would have rather worked harder to get the stones. I’d loved to spend some more time to polish the map further but it wasn’t met to be.
This project really showed me that spending some time and effort in the research for the map as well as the puzzle design really paid of! Play tests with fellow students allowed me to manipulate the experience to the point where even people that never touched Portal could beat the map and the feedback of a wider audience ( the community) was just really great! What I will definitely keep in mind for the next map I build ( for whatever game this may be) is that I need to plan more time to polish the map at the end of the project.
test chamber 117 walkthrough video